The author discusses the masculine mid life crisis, viewing it as a time of both inner and outer change, during which energies tied to pre existing structures are released, with constructive or destructive consequences, depending on the individual's personal and cultural circumstances. There is a comprehensive developmental event of middle and later life, involving strongly bonded mates, that acts to reverse or at least equalize the domestic status of the partners, and tends to redistribute the so called 'masculine' and 'feminine' traits among them. This sex role involution proceeds simultaneously within two individuals who comprise a unified field in regard to this comprehensive developmental sequence.The particular constellations we associate with maleness and femaleness may not pertain to biological sex as much as to parenthood. They lose their distinctness and gender specificity as the psychic structures predicated on and sustained by parenthood are phased out, with varying consequences for men and women. In the folk traditional settings, the psychic contents released by the developmental process of later life are socially sponsored, transformed from ego potentials into ego executive capacities. The human ego and the forms of the small, face to face society are the products of a conjoint evolution; predictably then, the social age grading of the life cycle in these societies is isomorphic with the sequential patterning of human potentials from birth to death. In these societies, the human ego and its psychosocial ecology are metaphors and extensions of each other. In the secular society the unproductive older man is in danger of losing his raison d'etre. Lacking the traditional armature, the sense of vital connection to a transhuman order, our achievement centered society cannot recognize, use, or validate the more sentient contents of the male psyche as they move towards more overt expression in middle and later life. Older women often discover new bursts of vitality, ratified by social opportunity. But for males the new and potentially refreshing contents of the psyche are more apt to become the pivot of crisis and of pathology. The middle aged and middle class American male, whose wife is no longer willing to provide a 'projective ecology' for his own feminine potentials, cannot easily find some conventional substitute. He either comes to terms with his own bisexuality, a resolution that is at best difficult in a culture that puts a high premium on ''masculine' virtues, or he resorts to pathologic solutions. The developmental perspective on aging, although it grows out of research with nonclinical and non American populations, suggests new directions for psychotherapists treating men in mid life crisis. The therapeutic task is not to 'adjust' the patient to inevitable loss and depletion, but to work with the developmental currents that can, if they are properly sponsored and understood, lead to a more enriched, more multifaceted self.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)41-59
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Geriatric Psychiatry
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1976


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